Latest political developments
Finland said on Thursday it would apply to join NATO ‘without delay’ and Sweden is expected to follow suit.
The Kremlin said Finland’s move to join NATO would ‘definitely’ be a threat to Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed support for the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, separatist-held territory in Eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine said Russia has stolen an estimated $100 million worth of grain and is trying to sell it to other countries.
Updates from the ground on Day 77 of the war
According to the Ukrainian military, Russian forces fired at Ukrainian troops in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, a refuge for civilians fleeing Mariupol.
Ukraine is offering to swap Russian prisoners of war for the release of injured fighters trapped in the Mariupol steel plant.
The governor of Belgorod, a Russian border region, said at least one civilian has been killed and another six wounded in Ukrainian shelling.
Russia said its forces hit two ammunition depots in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine, destroying a Ukrainian S-300 air defense missile system and a radar station.
Russian official warns of open conflict with NATO
The Kremlin responded to Finland’s announcement in favor of joining NATO on Thursday, saying the decision is a radical change in the country’s foreign policy and that Finnish entry into NATO is “definitely” a threat to Russia.
In response to the West sending arms supplies to Ukraine, top Russian official Dmitry Medvedev said there is a growing threat of the fighting in Ukraine spilling into a direct conflict between Russia and NATO.
Medvedev, who is the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said NATO’s support for Ukraine has “increased the probability that an ongoing proxy war will turn into an open and direct conflict between NATO and Russia.”
He also said that “there is always a risk of such conflict turning into a full-scale nuclear war, a scenario that will be catastrophic for all.”
WATCH | NATO special forces carry out training drills in eastern Europe:
In a messaging app commentary, Medvedev urged the United States and its allies to think about the possible consequences of their actions and “not to choke on their own saliva in the paroxysms of Russophobia.”
Ukraine recaptures villages in northeast
Since Russia has refocused its invasion in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine has been able to recapture several towns and villages in the country’s northeast, according to British intelligence.
Britain’s military said Russia’s change in approach left its remaining troops around the city of Kharkiv “vulnerable to the mobile, and highly motivated, Ukrainian counter-attacking force.”
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, suffered heavy Russian bombardment during the war as Russia sought to encircle it. But the UK said in an intelligence update on social media that “it has reportedly withdrawn units from the region to reorganize and replenish its forces following heavy losses.”
It said that withdrawal was “a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population.”
Meanwhile on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated his determination to wrest separatist-held territory from Ukraine in a congratulatory message to the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic in Eastern Ukraine.
In a statement released by the Kremlin, Putin said: “I am sure that through our joint efforts we will defend the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the Luhansk republic.
The head of the Luhansk self-proclaimed republic, Leonid Pasechnik, said it would never return to Ukrainian control and that most of its residents want it to become part of Russia.
Russia accused of stealing grain
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has accused Russia of stealing the country’s grain and trying to sell some of it on global markets.
The ministry said in Wednesday’s commentary that the stealing of Ukrainian grain amounts to looting.
It countries caution that purchase Russian grain that some of its shipments could contain the grain stolen from Ukraine, making buyers possible accomplices.
The ministry cited official estimates that Russia already may have stolen 400,000 to 500,000 metric tons of grain that cost over $100 million. It charged that “practically all ships leaving Sevastopol with a load of grain are carrying the grain stolen from Ukraine.”
It urged the global community to toughen the sanctions against Russia.